Learning groups


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At school we’ve been talking about the importance of creating our own learning experiences.  We’ve been wondering about how we can make ourselves better as professionals and some of us have put together a learning group.

I ask my students this pretty frequently, “Can learning ever happen in isolation?”. Is there anything we can learn that doesn’t build on anything. Can we come up with ideas on our own?

I think most quality learning experiences happen when people are having fun in groups. We learn more when we’re happy, we learn more when we can bounce our ideas off other people and correct our thinking in real time.

Our learning group is going to be focused on the individual. What do people want to get better at, how will they show that knowledge, how do we get to the next steps together.  I’m looking forward to this journey.

Tracking Learning


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This kind of comes from the last post about personalising learning. Some of the teachers and I have been using google forms for tracking student learning (specifically related to outcomes or standards), tracking anecdotal notes between classes, or just taking notes or images about how students are learning so we can adapt and work with them as best as possible.

The next step (for me I think anyway) is how can we put this in the hands of the learner.  How can we set goals with the students so they can track their learning and see their growth.  If we can make that growth visible and something to work towards, can we also start linking in other things?

I think I’m going to start with forms, have students set up a goal and then they can track it on something like Marzano’s four point rubric.original-858397-3

If they can use this to track their learning over time, they can look at specific learning goals and see how they’ve progressed and changed.

Any other thoughts?

Learning Communities

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I’ve been thinking a lot about learning lately. Most of the time I hope teachers do, but the lsat week it’s been right at the forefront of my thinking.

My school has been talking more about personalised learning lately, and what that might mean at our school. At first I was really worried about this, not because I don’t believe in it, but as a digital literacy coach I could sense some anxiety from my colleagues.  How do we really create personalised learning? What does that mean, and how do we get to it?

This year, so far, the iTime experiment has been going really well.  Students are creating apps, making a siren, creating websites, making a stand for my ukulele, making some cars and many other things.  It’s interesting to see what the students have chosen to learn more about.  The hardest thing for us (as a learning community so far) is how do we authentically assess this.  We have a form which allows us to identify how we want to be assessed and how we think we are doing in regards to that and our project.  But it seems forced at the end, because it just doesn’t seem like it fits at that time. Next week I think I will have some conversations with them as they head towards self/peer assessment using these forms.

I think a lot of it goes back to the idea of time though, and how the idea of limited time, or a rushed curriculum can hinder someone’s ability to be really creative, or take risks.  I wonder how we as teachers, especially in a “competitive, international” environment can really make a move on this without a fear of repercussions.

Anyway, if you’re doing personlised learning, how do you do it? What area your tips?




Empowered Learners


 Some rights reserved by Ken Whytock

Our school has adopted the ISTE standards for teachers and students. I talked to a colleague yesterday about the idea of empowered learner.  We’ve focused on this from a digital literacy point of view, and as a teacher, I try to focus on this in my class as well.

As DLCs, we’ve tried to change how our PD works. We wanted the choice to come from teachers rather than from administration.  We believe that everyone basically knows what they are good at, and should have some understanding of where to go.  A member of our team has created a list of basic competencies we expect all teachers to have.  It is up to them to go through the list and see if they know or don’t know what is needed (if they don’t know we have videos provided through Lynda to help them, or we are around to help people to address specific needs.

Not all teachers like this model, we are preparing something for the people who are beyond the core competencies and have already received their google, apple teacher or whatever. We are planning on doing a blogging group. We are focused on this as an empowered learning opportunity, we are co-learning, we all lead, we all follow, we all learn together. I’m really looking forward to this aspect for my own personal learning.

Finally (for now I guess) in the classroom my students are being constantly encouraged to take control of their own learning.  Today we did a simcity 2000 activity. I wanted to focus on two things. My explicit lesson was how do we build a city, my implicit lesson was how do we problem solve.  Students didn’t read how to play and were very bothered, they got frustrated, couldn’t build power plants and had a hard time working on any thing, their cities never were constructed.  I called them to the learning area and we discussed some of the problems we faced.  So then I asked, “So, what did you do to solve these problems?”.  They all asked me to solve their problems for them.  We brought up again what it meant to be a learner, and how we learn best.  Even using the internet for a game they couldn’t think of using it to solve their problems.  I explained to them how I worked through the same problems on my own.  It took some time, but so much of learning does.  In the end, my students have a better understanding of how to start solving problems, and next time our cities will hopefully be much more interesting.

By embracing the empowered learning standard we’ve had some great opportunities to authentically learn, and work with our students and colleagues.

Why Quantitative?

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This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how to actual see where we are in our learning journey.  I know that many schools have a focus on quantitative data.  We use standardised tests to make sure we are learning at the right time. We focus a lot on quantitative data because it is easier to show a big picture with lots of data at the same time (I think anyway). 

So, how can we present more personal qualitative data to parents.  Right now we are entering conference time, and we want to share the stories and make it personal, so I wonder how our teachers are doing that, and what the parents are thinking. 
I was reading this article about Modern Learning and wonder how we can use qualitative data more effectively.  We can use it to paint a bigger picture and a more complete story, but how do we use it to enhance our teaching practice.  How do we use it to drive inquiry? 
Way too many questions this week. 

Coaching Perspectives

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a learning coach.  I try to treat students the same way as I work with teachers, showing them ideas, explaining a concept quickly and having people explore.  Working with each individual at their exploration process to take them to the next step in their discoveries and then sharing our learning.

I want to encourage this model for teaching with the iPads.  Students are all at different levels and have the opportunity to create many different things. This individual focus allows student to achieve their personal best.

When students are working together to meet a common goal that that they had a part in creating I’ve personally seen a much deeper sense of engagement.  They want to know more, they willingly share their work with many others and they are receptive to feedback to create something incredible. 
I think  George Courus mentioned in a conference in Bangkok that this generation of learners publishes first and then edits.  This seems to clash with the teachers who want to edit first before presenting.  I think we need to have teachers open up and not be afraid to make mistakes. We all need to publish, get feedback and improve.  
As a coach, I’m trying to again push this idea of being a beginner and that everything can be edited and changed (even once published).  We need to make sure our whole school community has chances to fail and learn from their mistakes. 

Habit Forming?

It’s been really easy for me to form bad habits. Unconsciously I just do whatever and soon it’s too easy to stay in that rhythm, as long as it isn’t too good for me.  The things I want to do, running, blogging, etc. have been harder habits for me to form.

I wish I was better at remembering but I was reading/listening to something recently where the presenter was talking about how teachers use the idea that students are easily distracted because of access to technology as an easy way to explain why the students weren’t successful in class.  The presenter said it was our duty to work harder to inspire our students to work harder to stay focused, and that there is a sense of accomplishment in staying focused. So, I know that it is crucial for me to stay focused in order to do this, but I find it so difficult.

I’m at an EARCOS conference in Bangkok right now, and many of the speakers and presenters are saying the same thing in different forms, and I feel like I say the same things to my students (and was told the same things by my teachers) but still forming those good habits are so elusive.

I want to make sure that students are blogging about the environment and their place in it this year.  I feel like this will be essential for their learning.  By sharing their thoughts, writing about a place that is close to them, and communicating with others about their places, I think they will also develop a greater sense of community in the international world.

So any good habit forming tips? How do I keep myself accountable? I’m working with some people to make sure I keep to my goals, I guess community is important, but any other ideas are very welcome.

Teaching with Tech

I’m starting a new job this year, rather have started (which is why some posts have been delayed, and making #enviroedchat much harder to attend).  

This year I am a tech coach, and tech teacher. It is hard for me to balance the idea of being an environmental educator and tech teacher, mainly because I worry about how tech teaches consumption (with iPads, etc.) and how most of our electronic resources are either not recycled, or recycled poorly.  However, I’ll talk more about this later. 
Right now, I’m really interested in this idea of coach. What is a coach, and how is it different than a teacher?  When I”m outside with the students, I usually know more than most of them, about what things are around, how environmental systems work, and I’ve been around longer, so my theories are more solidified.  When I’m using an iPad or tablet, I don’t always know more, and I’m not sure that I should. 
With the idea of tech coach, I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy.

Taken from http://www.world-track.org

So who is this guy? Usain Bolt’s running coach.  Wild huh? 

After talking with Addy about the idea of tech coaches, I’ve really wondered about what skills I need to develop.  At first I was thinking about my own personal skills and my need to become a better user of the tablets and netbooks, etc.  Now I think, my knowledge (maybe more like my environmental knowledge) needs to be broader, I need to know concepts and systems, and be able to pick out specifics in others. 
While I don’t need to be able to do everything, I need to be able to structure my questions and activities so students can achieve their personal best, maybe world best (likely a stretch). 
I’ve been thinking a lot about it, especially when interacting with hesitant teachers.  I need to reassure them that being the best isn’t the goal, but like all teaching, helping others achieve their best is the goal. 

What Should We Know/Teach?

What Every Student Should Know About the Environment

There are scores of possible models of environmental education programs, and most have many of the following large concepts in common. As students go from kindergarten through high school, they can work their way down the list.
  1. Earth overflows with life.
    One of science’s biggest mysteries is how many species share this planet— estimates range from 5 million to 100 million species. Many environmental education programs begin with the premise that life is vanishing; young learners should first know that Earth teems with a huge number of creatures.
  2. Each creature is uniquely adapted to its environment.
    Every species evolved to possess a unique set of adaptations that enables it to survive and thrive in its ecosystem. Students should be on a first-name basis with many local creatures.
  3. The web of life is interdependent.
    Organisms evolve complex relationships, each depending on numerous other species for their survival.
  4. Materials flow through ecosystems in cycles.
    All creatures need water, air, and nutrients to survive. These materials cycle and recycle through ecosystems. The water we drink today is the same water we’ve always had, and always will.
  5. The sun is the ultimate source of energy flowing through ecosystems.
    Food grows from sunlight energy; our houses are heated by fossil fuels created many millennia ago from ancient sunlight.
  6. There is no waste in nature; everything is recycled.
    In nature, every waste product is used by other creatures. Humans have bent those circles into straight lines, where things are used once and tossed.
  7. We consume resources to live.
    Every student should know where the trash truck takes the trash, where water comes from, and how the nearest power plant makes electricity.
  8. Conservation is the wise use of finite resources.
    We are physical creatures with real needs—to eat, drink, build houses, write on paper. But how do we use these resources sustainably?
  9. Humans can have a profound effect on environmental systems.
    Fossil fuels pump carbon dioxide into the sky; habitat loss is causing the extinction of large numbers of species. Our actions profoundly affect the ecological systems that sustain living things—and us. Nature can often repair these systems (forests grow back, for example); but humans are changing systems faster than nature can adapt.
  10. Each of us can powerfully affect the fate of the natural world.
    Because each of us is directly plugged into the planet, the actions we take—or fail to take—profoundly influence earth’s systems.
– Taken from ASCD, Mike Weilbacher, May 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 8 

Teaching Social Responsibility Pages 38-44

After a great #enviroed twitter chat, of which I could only play a small part, I thought back to what environmental education actually was, and what we as teachers needed to understand. 
During my thesis, I used a participatory action research model to look at how we were teaching environmental education, and this was one of the articles we looked up.  
Coming from a perspective where there is no need for any more doom and gloom, I really resonate with the first point.  Earth overflows with life.  Sometimes, we don’t always see it, sometimes we question why it is there, or want to move it or kill it, but one thing is true, there is a lot of life, and it is something we need to celebrate more. 
I’ve been reading a lot over the holiday, so far anyway. And one of the things I am struck by is how little we truly understand about life. I wonder if this goes back to the nature deficit disorder , and our inability to notice or name things? 
Anyway, what matters about environmental education, why are we teaching it, and what do we need to do to (re)connect young learners with nature?